(Netflix Streaming, September 2016) There was a definite danger that a spin-off movie focusing on the best bit players of the Madagascar series would overexpose them, but Penguins of Madagascar surprisingly doesn’t run its subject entirely into the ground. Sure, they’re fleshed-out, lessened by their explained history, brought down by lame moments and not quite as cool over 90+ minutes than in small sketches within a longer movie, but these penguins come out of their showcase more or less as enjoyable as they were before the film, and that’s not bad. It helps that Penguins of Madagascar has a few great moments to even out the lengthier sequences. Particular note should be made about That One Continuous Shot in which the penguins jump, run and parachute down to Earth through a plane and other assorted debris. Otherwise, Skipper remains the rough voice of aggressive action, the other penguins respond ably, the film amuses itself by showcasing other animal covert agents and the action moves briskly across the globe. Only the villain seems weaker—with conflicting morals, not-cute aesthetics and a somewhat ineffectual plan, it takes a while to warm up to him, and even then not completely. Still, as an animated movie for kids, Penguins of Madagascar hits its expected targets in a frantic display of action sequences and the result is in-line with the Madagascar series so far. It could have been much, much worse, along the lines of the immediately forgettable Puss in Boots spin-off.
(In French, On TV, January 2016) Keeping expectations low is one of the best ways to approach the Madagascar series. Given that the second film wasn’t particularly remarkable, most should be properly primed not to ask too much from Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. Yet viewed with this background in mind, the movie becomes almost curiously enjoyable: it helps that it leaves the jungles of Africa for the urban and mountainous vistas of Europe, joining a circus for a welcome change of pace. I’ll note, out of homegrown pride, that I really did not expect a Cirque du Soleil joke in the middle of the film (“until those French Canadians came along, drunk off of their maple syrup and cheap pharmaceuticals…”) and that it was one of a few quick laughs that the movie earned. The penguins, once again, are a welcome addition to the film. King Julian, less so. Madagascar 3 also has the decency of wrapping up the trilogy in a way that could satisfyingly end there if they wished, which isn’t bad at all. Seeing this third instalment in French sadly takes away the comfort of some familiar voices—as usual, I most miss Chris Rock’s distinctive intonations. Otherwise, this is a fairly by-the-numbers animated movie, best appreciated by fans of the series so far, but more energetic than could have been expected.